What it means to take guitar lessons has changed a lot as information technology has become more readily accessible. Yet even as technology changes, the core of what it means to learn guitar, and the processes involved, have remained largely the same. In this article we're looking at the definition of a guitar lesson and what you can expect as someone taking them as a student or providing them as a teacher.
What are guitar lessons?
Guitar lessons involve you being taught how to play guitar, by a teacher, either online or in-person. It can also be described as tutoring or "guitar instruction” where one person guides you through aspects of learning and playing the instrument.
A guitar lesson can also be a pre-recorded video that you stream or download.
Regardless of the format, good guitar lessons should always include topical instruction, introduction, demonstration, and application.
This is an expectation that should be held by both those in need of guitar lessons and those who provide them.
Teachers and students alike can expect well-designed guitar lessons to incorporate all of these elements, which allow a student to fully grasp guitar-related concepts by not just hearing about them, but seeing them demonstrated, and then getting to try it themselves.
Here's the process:
- Hear a new concept explained in theory
- See that concept demonstrated on the fretboard
- Apply the concept to your own fretboard in a concrete way
This process results in better retention of the information, which is why guitar lessons are so good at accelerating the process of learning. We'd argue this is true for other instruments as well, not just the guitar.
More Guitar Chalk Lesson Resources
Guitar lessons are all about helping you learn and understand the fretboard quicker, which isn't to say that lessons should encourage shortcuts.
Rather, it means that guitar lessons should - in the process of a 30 or 60 minute session - give you tools to memorize and work on that will help you improve quicker on your own than you would have improved without that 30 or 60 minute session.
Those who teach guitar lessons can also look at the students' processes and habits and make corrections as they go. This is an element of instruction that you lose with online guitar lessons, giving in-person lessons an element of helpfulness that can't be easily replicated by a website. With a tutor, you're able to delve deeper into mistakes and questions which further accelerates the learning process and fixes problems immediately that would take months (perhaps years) for the student to fix on their own.
This process is nothing new.
Music education, private music lessons, and guitar lessons have been going on for hundreds of years. What is more "new" is the idea of learning guitar online, which we deal with a lot on this website.
Yet, while mediums change, the process, methodology, and core definition of the lessons stays the same. It's all about the student and optimizing study time, ultimately giving the student more time to play guitar and less time in the classroom.
Why are guitar lessons important?
There are number of reasons that we believe guitar lessons are a crucial aspect of education, development, and (simply) the process of learning guitar. This is not to say that you can't be self-taught or that you always need to rely on lessons to support your learning.
Quite the opposite.
Guitar lessons are important because they come alongside you and help reinforce what you're figuring out yourself and give you the tools to keep learning. They're important because they provide structures that enable and promote creativity. For those learning guitar, they're the ultimate "teach you how to fish" option.
A guitar lesson or course should teach you scale segments and structures before teaching you how to play a song (this is a big part of the reason we do not recommend Fender Play's platform).
Moreover, guitar lessons - or a guitar course - should teach you chord construction before it teaches you chord progressions.
Guitar lessons are important because they come alongside you and help reinforce what you're figuring out yourself and give you the tools to keep learning.
If you understand how chords are built, you can essentially build your own.
This means guitar lessons enable more people to engage creatively and improve their quality of life with music, in a shorter amount of time.
What people or situations benefit from guitar lessons?
Any guitar player, at any skill level, can benefit from lessons.
At its core a guitar lesson is simply a transfer of knowledge from one person to another, where the experience of one guitar player can always be used to benefit another that hasn't built knowledge in that particular area.
At the same time, there are particular situations where guitar lessons can be uniquely beneficial.
Complete Beginners (aspiring guitar players)
Perhaps the clearest example of those who benefit from guitar lessons are complete beginners, or those who have never picked up a guitar. In most cases, these are the people that are most likely to seek out guitar lessons because they are in need of the most help.
This can range from those who have literally never touched a guitar, to those who have played but might need a refresher of the basics.
Homeschool or Distance Learning
Guitar lessons can also be part of a broader educational curriculum, making them particularly helpful for those who are homeschooled or engaged in some kind of distance-learning program. With so many people getting even college degrees online these days the prospect of learning an instrument, either from a tutor or via an online course, is extremely viable.
It's also a preffered method by most compared to the classroom model of learning, which is far less conducive to instrument and music study.
Senior Citizens or Retirees
Senior citizens and/or retirees will often enjoy music lessons, particularly the guitar because it's easy to pick up and play quickly.
While their access to lessons can be a bit different (less use of a computer, less mobility in some cases), they often get a lot out of the content, particularly if they've already played in years past and are looking for a way to refresh on the basics and get back into the guitar.
Those looking to improve in specific areas
Guitar lessons aren't just for people who are clueless about the guitar. They can also be extremely beneficial to people who already have a solid understanding of the instrument, perhaps intermediate or advanced players, and want to "niche-down" into a more specific area of study.
For example, you might know a lot of the basics but want to study more about blues improvisation, or metal power chords.
If that's the case, you can find courses or teachers that specialize in those specific topics, to improve your guitar playing in a more targetted manner.
Things You Should Know About Guitar Lessons
Guitar lessons do a lot of good and they can help in a lot of ways. At the same time, there are some limitations that people should keep in mind.
Guitar lessons are not one-size-fits-all
Guitar teachers, programs, courses, and lesson videos are all going to vary widely, meaning there's no one-size-fits-all system. What works for some will be completely unhelpful to others, which is why it's good to have a wide variety of personalities and choices when it comes to teachers and programs.
Cannot replace solitary practice time
One of the most common mistakes people make when taking guitar lessons is a lack of practice time outside of the lessons themselves. If we agree that the lessons are - in effect - transferring certain tools and information to the student, they won't do the student much good without the act of using those tools outside of allotted lesson time.
In simpler terms, you need to practice.
Individual practice time should vastly outpace the time you spend taking guitar lessons.
For example, it's not a stretch to say that for every 10 minutes of lesson or instruction time, you should take an hour of practice to work on those concepts on your own.
Are inherently short
Most guitar lessons are not designed to be long-winded.
For a guitar tutor - teaching you in person - 30 minutes is not unusual, and an hour is on the higher end of the spectrum.
Moving to online lessons and pre-recorded videos, five to 10 minutes is typical, where we seldom see single videos that exceed 15 minutes.
Need to be sensitive to how and when topics are covered
Where we often see guitar lessons miss the mark is in terms of how they order content and how they prepare students for future topics. As a teacher of any subject, organization by skill level and complexity is hard to navigate, particularly when it comes to the guitar.
There's little precedent for what should be taught first, or how the progression of complexity should go, so many guitar teachers just give their best guess.
It's the guitar teachers and courses that take time to get this part right that tend to really stand out from the crowd and end up with a better final product.
Read more: Teaching guitar concepts in proper order
Criticisms or Downsides of Guitar Lessons
While guitar lessons aren't exactly a "controversial" topic, there are a few areas where they tend to be criticized, in favor of students being more self-taught. Here are some arguments against guitar lessons.
Discourages beginners with too much theory
It's a common argument that guitar lessons - perhaps in their more traditional form - actually discourage beginners from continuing with the instrument because of difficult subject matter, or too much emphasis on music theory.
Understandably, this varies depending on the teacher or resource in question.
In some cases, it's a fair criticism, though I've more often seen this be an issue with the student's own lack of motivation, rather than being a fault of the presented material being too difficult.
Not enough songs (application) to keep people interested
Fender Play was founded on the idea that beginners - particularly young beginners - are abandonning the guitar because it takes too long to learn. Fender's response has been to integrate songs quickly into their learning platform and advocate for more of a "fun first" approach to the instrument.
By front-loading the application part of the guitar lesson process, we'd argue that this particular response does more harm than good. Saying that people aren't getting to play songs quickly enough, is once again a mischaracterization of the problem with people quitting.
It's more accurate to say that more people are quitting guitar because more people than ever before have access to an instrument and to lessons programs.
The guitar lesson pricing scale spans a wide range, especially when you're talking about both online and tutoring-style guitar lessons. To hire a tutor, it's not unusual to pay $30 for 30 minutes, then perhaps get a full hour at a discounted $45 rate. Still, that's a lot of money, which is why online guitar lessons - many to the tune of $20 per month - have become more popular in recent years.
While we aknowledge the tutoring method is expensive, it's important to note that paying for a private teaching session is going to add some value to your experience that you can't get from taking a class online.
When you're paying someone for their time, $45 an hour - by many comparisons - is not overtly expensive.
The structure of guitar lessons is sometimes criticized for being too stifling to creativity. While it's possible for poorly structured programs and bad teachers to fail in this area, it's ultimately the student's responsibility to use those tools.
As I mentioned earlier: It's entirely on the student to practice concepts outside of lesson time. If a lesson has explained, demonstrated, and assisted in some form of application, it's going to have setup the grid and "playing field" for creativity to occur.
Creativity is only discouraged when lessons resort to raw memorization and pattern recital, as opposed to teaching musical and fretboard structures.
Outdated learning method
Guitar lessons are sometimes called an outdated model of learning.
This criticism is often targeted at a specific kind of guitar lesson model, like the classroom method.
There's some merit to this argument - particularly as it relates to the outdated method of class learning and college courses - though we would add that it often ignores the viability and modern practicality of the online method that is quickly replacing it.
The "guitar is dying" argument
A few years ago Geoff Edgers wrote an article in the Washington Post titled The Slow, Secret Death of the Electric Guitar which argued that the instrument, from a popularity perspective, was dying out.
Our response was that you might see bigger brands like Gibson and Fender struggling, but that it's due to them losing their once-held monopoly on the market as other more viable companies start to carve out loyal customer bases (Ibanez, Takamine, PRS, etc.).
Though it's less of a direct guitar lesson critique, some see the guitar as an instrument not worth learning, because of the assumption that people are less interested in it than they were in years past.
We would politely disagree.
Types of Guitar Lessons
As we've mentioned, there are different types of guitar lessons and different ways to take them. In this section, we’ll dig a little deeper into each type to help you figure out which one is best-suited to your situation and/or learning style.
In-Person or Tutor
The classic method of taking guitar lessons involves a one-on-one tutoring situation where a teacher provides instruction and demonstration in-person. This typicall7 occurs in the student’s home, the teachers' home, a local music teaching business or recording studio.
While this is no longer the primary method (given the widespread implementation of online education and video courses) it’s still an extremely common and viable method of taking – or giving – guitar lessons.
Moreover, some people prefer this method for the social interaction and immediate feedback.
Online guitar lessons take the form of a streamable or downloadable video course, usually pre-recorded, that can be watched by the student at their own pace. In most cases these are membership sites that charge a monthly or yearly rate, allowing you to watch as many lessons as you want.
Other forms of include guitar lesson sites that provide courses as single downloads and completely free sites that do not charge to view their content.
Online Tutor (the Skype model)
A mixture of the two previous guitar lesson methods would be an online tutor where the teacher interacts with the student over a live video conferencing system like Skype or Google Hangouts.
However, this is not a method that we typically recommend since it leaves out many of the advantages of both methods.
Class or Group
Guitar lessons given in a classroom setting are probably the least common of the variations we’ve covered, though they’re still available. Some private music schools or lesson businesses will offer classes in this format.
You’ll also have local governments, arts organizations, and civic groups that offer music lessons in a class or group form.
It’s commonly used to teach kids music, both in the private and public sector.
Tools of the Trade for Guitar Students & Teachers (resource links)
To wrap up our guitar lessons guide, we're going to list some helpful tools and resources for teachers and students alike. However, we're also including resources for more general music educators and not just guitar teachers.
There are a lot of websites that provide guitar chord help, though a few stand out for their completeness and ease of use. When it comes to chords, we're looking for a simpler resource.
TrueFire's chord chart list is a good place to start, at least if you're looking for something you can download, as opposed to just being able to view in a browser. If you're willing to give up an email address, they'll send you a download link for the entire chart.
Here are some additional chord-related tools and apps for guitar teachers and students:
One of our favorite tab resources to recommend is the Songsterr app, which is free to use and easy to access through a quick song search. It has a playback system built in so you can follow along with your tab sheet, which is in a high-quality Guitar Pro-style format.
Here are a few other tab sites, apps, and resources we recommend for assisting in guitar lesson planning and for learning guitar songs in general:
Scales are a major part of teaching and learning guitar, particularly as it relates to learning melody, lead guitar, and soloing structures. Our Medium article on guitar scales provides a summary and some graphics that help explain them from a conceptual standpoint.
Here are a few more scale-related resources that might be helpful:
Websites About Guitar and Guitar Lessons
There are a ton of websites that cover guitar and publish educational content. Here are some of our favorites:
Guitar World's Lessons Section: This part of Guitar World's online magazine is curated from several different publishers. The quality of material is hit or miss, but with such a large body of content there's plenty to like.
Guitar Tricks Lessons and Courses: Guitar Tricks is one of the largest and longest running guitar lesson programs. For years it has been our top recommendation for those looking to get started learning guitar online.
Justinguitar (Justin Sandercoe): Justin Sandercoe has been teaching guitar for decades and has compiled all his content, available completely free, on his YouTube channel and at Justinguitar.com.
Amped guitar learning app: The Amped guitar learning app is a Yousician-style video game that listens to and analyzes your guitar playing in real time.
Udemy guitar courses: Though the courses available in Udemy are often changing, some of the top guitar courses are quite good, and affordable.
Active Melody YouTube and Membership site: Brian Sherril's site is one of our favorite guitar lesson resources to recommend. About half his content is available free on YouTube, with the other half behind a reasonably-priced pay wall.
TrueFire guitar lessons: Helpful for advanced guitar players, TrueFire has the most content to choose from, the widest range of skill level, and a ton of different topics covered in various musical niches.
Guitargate: Michael Palmisano's courses emphasize music theory and personal interaction, as his membership role is still small enough that he can offer a level of personal feedback for those who take his courses. These are also sponsored by PRS.
NAFME music teacher resources page: The National Association for Music Education keeps an updated list of teaching resources, helpful for a wide range of music education topics.
NST free classroom posters: This site keeps a collection of high resolution images designed to be printed out as classroom posters. The images themselves are free if you can take care of the printing.
Printable blank sheet music: Just blank sheet music that can be easily printed out for classrooms, tutoring, or individual study.
Printable blank guitar tabls: Like the above, this page on Justinguitar has blank guitar tabs and other resources that can be printed out.
Smartmusic teacher resources: Like the NAFME page, Smartmusic keeps a list of podcasts, blogs, and resources for music teachers.
JamPlay Guitar Lessons: We recommend JamPlay lessons for intermediate and advanced guitar players, as well as beginners who just want a lot of stylistic choices and options. JamPlay also offers single course downloads/purchases, which is a nice option to have.
Sountrap Studio: Browser based GarageBand-style music studio
As it turns out, there's a lot to the garden variety guitar lesson.
It's not an exaggeration to say we have more options now than ever before when it comes to learning guitar, and obtaining musical knowledge in general. Use the resources we've listed here as they suit you, and share them with others who would benefit.
If you have questions, feel free to give me a shout in the comments section below, and I'll be happy to help out as much as possible.